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Behavioral Interactions Between Aphaenogaster rudis (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) and Reticulitermes flavipes (Isoptera: Rhinotermitidae): The Importance of Physical Barriers

Abstract

Predation pressure from ants is a major driving force in the adaptive evolution of termite defense strategies and termites have evolved elaborate chemical and physical defenses to protect themselves against ants. We examined predator–prey interactions between the woodland ant, Aphaenogaster rudis (Emery) and the eastern subterranean termite, Reticulitermes flavipes (Kollar), two sympatric species widely distributed throughout deciduous forests in eastern North America. To examine the behavioral interactions between A. rudis and R. flavipes we used a series of laboratory behavioral assays and predation experiments where A. rudis and R. flavipes could interact individually or in groups. One-on-one aggression tests revealed that R. flavipes are vulnerable to predation by A. rudis when individual termite workers or soldiers are exposed to ant attacks in open dishes and 100% of termite workers and soldiers died, even though the soldiers were significantly more aggressive towards the ants. The results of predation experiments where larger ant and termite colony fragments interacted provide experimental evidence for the importance of physical barriers for termite colony defense. In experiments where the termites nested within artificial nests (sand-filled containers), A. rudis was aggressive at invading termite nests and inflicted 100% mortality on the termites. In contrast, termite mortality was comparable to controls when termite colonies nested in natural nests comprised of wood blocks. Our results highlight the importance of physical barriers in termite colony defense and suggest that under natural field conditions termites may be less susceptible to attacks by ants when they nest in solid wood, which may offer more structural protection than sand alone.

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Acknowledgements

We thank members of the Urban Center and two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on the manuscript, C. Wang for help identifying ant specimens, M. McDonough for collecting and maintaining termite colonies, and T. Clough for statistical advice. Financial support was provided in part by the Industrial Affiliates Program at Purdue University.

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Correspondence to Grzegorz Buczkowski.

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Buczkowski, G., Bennett, G. Behavioral Interactions Between Aphaenogaster rudis (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) and Reticulitermes flavipes (Isoptera: Rhinotermitidae): The Importance of Physical Barriers. J Insect Behav 21, 296–305 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10905-008-9127-2

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10905-008-9127-2

Keywords

  • Ant–termite interactions
  • Aphaenogaster rudis
  • predation
  • predator–prey interactions
  • Reticulitermes flavipes